In a normal world, goalie Ilya Sorokin could have started the 2020-21 season in Bridgeport to get him consistent playing time and to allow him time to acclimate himself to the North American style of hockey. But these are not normal times because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, with the National Hockey League going to a bubble for the playoffs in August and September, the 56-game regular season began in mid-January while the American Hockey League season of just 24 games commenced last weekend.
Sorokin, the Islanders third-round pick in 2014 who finally came over from Russia over the summer to join the Islanders to practice in the bubble but was not eligible to play, has only played in three games so far this season backing up Semyon Varlamov. His first game was on January 16th, an emergency start when Varlamov was injured during warmups before the second game of the season and that was a 5-0 loss to the Rangers under extremely difficult circumstances. His other two starts came on January 24th in a 2-0 loss to the Devils and on January 31st in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers.
Sorokin would certainly benefit from more game action so an option could be giving him some games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. It’s something the Islanders could certainly decide to do.
“We’re going to do whatever is right for him and the team, the team and him, and in no order but we feel he’s ok,” said Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello. “We feel he’s fine. We’ll decide at a given time if we think it’s necessary to send him to play a couple of games (in Bridgeport) but at this point we do not feel that.”
Through three games this season, Sorokin is 0-2-1 with a 3.65 goals against average and a save percentage of .871. He is, without question, the Islanders’ number two goaltender at this moment but the opportunities to play have been few and far between without a lot of back-to-back games. Sorokin could certainly get into his fourth game either on Monday or Tuesday when the Islanders play consecutive games against the Sabres in Buffalo.
What’s also important to keep in mind is that NHL veteran Cory Schneider is also on the roster and has served as the backup a couple of times when the Isles moved Sorokin to the taxi squad for NHL salary cap maneuvering. In addition, all of Bridgeport’s games are being played in the afternoon so if there is a point in the schedule where the Islanders could get Sorokin into a game for the Sound Tigers at Webster Bank Arena, he would be able to return to Long Island that night and rejoin the Islanders the next morning.
But as of now, Sorokin will remain with the Islanders full-time.
“We haven’t really had that discussion,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz when asked if Sorokin could see some action with the Sound Tigers. “Let’s see where the schedule takes us but that is always a possibility. We think he’s going to be fine we’ll see where he is.”
The Islanders and their fans have been waiting a long time for Sorokin to make the move from the KHL to the NHL but he signed a one-year deal over the summer that allowed him to practice with the team in the bubble and he also signed a one-year extension for 2020-21.
After this season, Sorokin with be a restricted free agent and will have to be signed to a new deal. Not that limited action in the NHL along with some potential games in Bridgeport this season is going to be a final determination of how good Sorokin will eventually be for the Islanders, but the team does need to see a bigger sample size and there could certainly be more data collected if the five-time KHL All-Star can get a few starts for the Sound Tigers.
“He’s a very talented young man, a very committed young man and he’s going to have tremendous success,” said Lamoriello. “If we think it’s right to get him to play a couple of games (in Bridgeport), we’ll do that but right now we feel he’s capable of playing here.”
In his three starts, Ilya Sorokin has shown some flashes of what he displayed for CSKA Moscow in Russia and what he has the potential to do for the Islanders in the NHL. But with Semyon Varlamov playing as well as he is right now, Sorokin will continue to be the primary understudy and will need the schedule to break the right way for him to get a start here and there. The schedule may also dictate whether Sorokin will head North on I-95 or take the Port Jeff Ferry from Long Island to Bridgeport to see some action with the Sound Tigers.